Love and Kindness Meditation
Love and Kindness meditation or ‘Lovingkindness’ meditation is a form of Buddhist practice that focuses on ‘Mettã ’ (which translates as unconditional love and kindness) a central tenet of ‘Theravadã Buddhism‘, which has become popularised in the West by spiritual practitioners such as Sharon Salzburg. Theravadã Buddhism teaches that love should be felt unconditionally for all things, and not just those for whom we expect to gain something back from.
Lovingkindness meditation aims to foster a sense of empathy and love from the practitioner towards all beings. In a spiritual sense, it helps to strengthen the realisation that we are all part of one being, pointing to the fact that to love discriminately would be senseless. From a secular point of view the attitude fostered by lovingkindness meditation is also of use in reducing stress and conflict, as well as in helping to develop a reasonable attitude to close relationships. It is widely believed by Western psychologists that focusing one’s love on just one or few objects of desire is unhealthy. Seeing love as something that exists everywhere and can be felt for anyone helps to balance one’s emotional state reducing dependence upon others.
Practicing Loving KindnessLovingkindness meditation aims toward developing love for people and other beings in the sense that ’love’ is taken to be something without a contingent purpose or value. With this borne in mind it is possible to practice lovingkindness in everyday life, although it becomes mush easier alongside lovingkindness meditation.
It is possible to start lovingkindness meditation by clearing the mind in much the same way as you would when meditating in any other form; by focusing upon your breathing, a mantra, an affirmation or some music. Once you are in a relaxed state you can start by feeling pure and unconditional love for the following persons and groups, one by one:
Yourself: Forgive yourself any misgivings and accept yourself fully and without conditions.
A close friend: Feel unconditional love for a close friend, whilst expecting nothing from them. It is important that this person is someone you can adequately feel unconditional love for, without this love slipping into the extremes of pity or adoration.
Someone to whom you’re indifferent: Pick an associate, or someone you see regularly, but have no close connection to or feelings towards and feel your love extending out to them, with absolutely no intention of gaining favour from doing so.
Someone with whom you have difficulties: Feel your love extending to someone you are experiencing communication problems with. Let an awkward feelings drift away and see your love for them as no different to that you have felt for the others.
Following this feel love equally for yourself and the three people you have just projected love towards. And then feel your love extending out to all beings everywhere.
The feeling of lovingkindness can be invoked through visualising your love towards yourself and others displaying the outward signs of feeling love and feeling loved, or by simply repeating the mantra ‘lovingkindness’, or another similar one if you prefer!
It is important that this exercise is carried out with a focus on people towards which you feel no sexual attraction or animosity. In time, it may be possible to put these feelings aside and to feel an absolutely unconditional love even for those you are attracted to, or have genuine longstanding problems with.. However, in the initial stages it is necessary to first come to terms with what the feeling of lovingkindness is before you can confidently apply it to all aspects of your life.